Rosenshine's Principles: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

Rosenshine's principles of instruction: a classroom guide on the theory and practice for teachers and educational leaders.

What are Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction?

A professor and expert of Educational Psychology, Barak Rosenshine (1930 – 2017) at the University of Illinois explored teacher instruction along with Robert Stevens and identified the effectiveness of methods and approaches that were practised by the most successful teachers. Barak Rosenshine's ‘Principles of Instruction’ (2010) are based on the following three sources:

  • Research on scaffolds and cognitive supports, such as the use of instructional procedures and models, enabled students to grasp difficult tasks.
  • Directly observing ‘practices of master teachers’, those effective teachers whose students made the most educational progress as calculated by the attainment tests. These directed on characteristics such as how these teachers taught new information and made precise links to previous learning, how they monitored and examined the knowledge of their students, how they offered opportunities for practice and rehearsal, and the kinds of support used for scaffolding the knowledge retention and development of understanding.
  • Research on Cognitive Science on how the human brain acquires and utilizes new knowledge. This offers knowledge of how to endure the limitations of students' long-term memory when trying to learn new conceptual ideas.

Through the above sources, Barak Rosenshine specified seventeen effective methods of instruction, used as the teaching practices of ‘master’ teachers within their effective lessons to facilitate the most effective student learning to occur. If you are tasked with the job of moving the principles forward in your school then this article will help you think about the implementation of the principles and the professional learning that needs to accompany it. These broad principles offer educators high-level concepts to focus on and they shouldn't be seen as a tick box exercise. If you have responsibilities for teaching and learning across your institution then we encourage you to think about the educational theory that sits behind the principles. Once educators have a grasp on these ideas, then they can choose instructional practices that meet the classroom demands they face. Within this article, you could also download a top-level PDF that explains these principles in an easy to understand graphical format. Please do feel free to download this and use it for your CPD activities.

Rosenshine encouraged educators to break tasks into smaller steps
Rosenshine encouraged educators to break tasks into smaller steps

Rosenshine's most effective methods of instruction

In recent years, the principles of instruction have received a lot of interest. They provide a welcome set of broad principles that can be adapted to meet most contexts. They are not meant to be seen as 'instructional straitjackets' but guiding principles that can be embraced by teachers from all backgrounds. In the UK, schools are moving towards an evidence based profession. The methods outlined by Rosenshine are a great first step for a school that wants to adopt evidence-informed teaching behaviours. As with all teaching frameworks, it's important to develop a strong understanding of the rationale behind the methods otherwise teaching staff are left using the methods without any clear direction.

  • Start a new lesson with a brief review of the previous lesson.
  • Introduce new material in brief steps with student practice following each step.
  • There needs to be a limit to the number of material students deal with at one time.
  • Give easy to understand and detailed instructions and descriptions.
  • Ask many clear questions and test students understanding.
  • Guide students when they start to practice.
  • Offer a high-quality and active practice to the students.
  • Model steps and think
  • Use worked-out problems as models.
  • Ask learners to demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Check each student's response to the teaching.
  • Provide corrections and systematic feedback.
  • Spend ample time of the class in providing explanations.
  • Provide concise explanations
  • Re-teach complex material whenever needed.
  • Students must be prepared to perform the independent practice.
  • Students must be monitored during the independent practice.

Model your thinking processes
Model your thinking processes

The 10 Key Rosenshine Principles

From the above procedures, Rosenshine developed 10 key principles, which he claimed to support any effective approach to instruction in the class. The following are the Rosenshine's Principles Of Instruction:

  1. Daily Review

Rosenshine suggests spending between 5-8 minutes each day, mostly at the beginning of a lesson, to review past learning. As mentioned in the Cognitive Load Theory, our cognitive load (the quantity of information our working memory can keep at one time) is relatively small, if we wouldn't review past learning, then our previous knowledge will get in the way of learning new knowledge.

By devoting class time to reviewing and evaluating past academic performance, learners will eventually perform more effectively. Students will construct a more in-depth awareness of syllabus material, improve their basic skills, critical thinking skills and make connections between ideas.

  1. Presenting New Material in Small Steps

Our working memory has a limited capacity. If learners are presented with a lot of information at the same time, their working memory will suffer from overload. This will slow down or even stop the learning process as the students mind will no longer be able to process every piece of information at once.

Due to this, Rosenshine's principle suggests that new information must be introduced in small steps. Experienced teachers show that it is useful to remain focused on what students need to know and remove any irrelevant material from the lesson plan.

Present material in small steps
Present material in small steps

  1. Asking Questions

Asking students different kinds of questions (such as direct questions, closed question, comprehension questions) is one of the most powerful tools a teacher can use to enhance student learning and enable them to investigate a topic in more detail. Rosenshine states that less effective teachers ask a fewer number of questions and nearly no ‘process questions’ (questions about the learning process, such as how students performed a task). The greatest significance of questioning is that they strengthen students' long-term memory.

  1. Presenting Models

Providing new information to learners by linking it to their prior knowledge allows a quicker understanding, deeper retention and enhances students' memory. It is particularly true of different types of concepts such as complex concepts, essential concepts and sequencing concepts etc). Teachers can do this by providing appropriate support to their students. Thinking aloud, demonstrating the way to solve a problem, and working examples, are the modelling strategies teachers can use to enhance student learning.

Sequencing concepts Rosenshine
sequencing concepts using a thinking tool

  1. Guided Student Practice

Rosenshine's principle emphasizes the importance of giving students sufficient time to practise retrieval, ask questions, and get the desired help. Students must not stop after learning the information once, they must continue to rehearse it by summarising, analyzing, or applying their knowledge. If teachers do not reduce their pace of teaching a lesson, then students’ memory of that topic will be decreased.

  1. Checks for Student Understanding

Checks for understanding allow teachers to identify any misconceptions students may have and explain things they are still struggling with. Rosenshine's sixth principle suggest teachers take intermittent periods during the lesson to stop and assess whether students have understood the learning material. Teachers can do this by asking learners to make a presentation, share their opinion about the lesson, summarise the information and correct students' errors. Checks for student understanding assure that the students have a clear foundation for their learning and make them ready to learn the next topic.

Rosenshine's principals: Using scaffolds and checking for understanding
Using scaffolds and checking for understanding

  1. Achieving an Elevated Success Rate

Cognitive Psychology Research reveals that the instructors who utilized the most effective teaching strategies had more students with higher educational success rates. According to Barak Rosenshine, the optimal academic success rates educators need to strive for is 80% (which is similar to the optimal success rate for multiple-choice tests). An optimal success rate of 80% shows that although challenged, learners still grasped and learnt new concepts.

  1. Providing scaffolds for difficult lessons

According to Rosenshine's eighth principles, when using more complex material teachers must apply scaffolding in their lessons. Scaffolding means facilitating students’ incremental mastery of a skill or concept by gradually decreasing teacher assistance. The responsibility for the learning process shifts from the instructor to the student. The temporary support of scaffolding provides help to the students achieve higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that would have not been possible without the teacher's support.

  1. Independent Practice

The ninth principles of Rosenshine claim that scaffolding is crucial, but the students must also be able to complete tasks independently and take responsibility for their learning. Creating independent learners is vital as it helps students to improve their educational performance and stay motivated. By practising complex tasks again and again in their own time, students create greater automatically and fluency in the concept they’re trying to understand. Over-learning a concept, helps learners to recall the details automatically.

  1. Weekly & Monthly Review

Rosenshine's tenth principle is an advanced stage of the first principle, but it involves reviewing the prior knowledge over monthly and weekly timeframes. This mixture of retrieval and spacing is a method known as successive relearning which implicates spacing out the use of retrieval practise methods at various points in time until a specific level of mastery has been accomplished.

Weekly and monthly reviews allow students to make connections between new and old information, improving their understanding of a concept. Setting weekly homework tasks, doing a quiz every month and asking students to complete a monthly reflection, are all effective classroom strategies.

Final thoughts on Rosenshine's Principals of Instruction

Rosenshine’s principles are based on Evidence-Informed Teaching that supports their efficacy. Steven and Rosenshine's Principles (1986) advance teacher performance by applying the most effective practice of teaching when the main goal is to master a key skill or body of knowledge using clearly defined stages, which the students apply later. Some of the above educational strategies may not be beneficial in certain situations, for instance, if someone is trying to find a unique, creative solution to a problem. For this reason, as with any academic strategy, it is up to the professional judgement of the instructor to agree on how and when to use these strategies within their classroom practice. As with all new classroom concepts, teachers will need opportunities for deliberate practice. Simply providing teaching books in the classroom is not sufficient for whole school change. Educators need opportunities to develop a theory of action and then put this into practice. As an educational idea, the principles have really developed a lot of traction in British schools over the last two years. Their simplicity enables teachers to develop a strong understanding of instructional practices.

Over the last two years, these principles have been considered effective practice and have been adopted in many schools around the UK and further afield. They offer the classroom teacher a simple way of taking ideas of practice into their own classrooms. Taking these principles into practice does require a strong conceptual understanding of the rationale behind the technique. If educators don't acquire a fundamental understanding of the educational principle, then we run the risk of engaging in instructional behaviours that we don't fully grasp. Experience teachers have built their craft over years of effective practice and they understand when to facilitate certain teaching practices and when to avoid them. We have seen lesson observation templates that require teachers to incorporate the Rosenshine Principles even when they are not suited to the lesson material. Our advice would be to focus on developing a strong conceptual understanding of cognitive science and instructional practices. With a strong understanding of the broad principles, the teaching staff can then choose when to incorporate strategies into the lesson sequence. If we are too prescriptive within lesson observations then we run the risk of taking Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction out of context to the detriment of student progress.